Welcome to Life in 361˚. This blog is an 'open journal' - a space where I keep notes on bits & pieces I come across day-to-day - including books and articles I've read that I feel are worth sharing, interesting pictures and photos (I'm a visual learner, you see), random musings - and anything else that happens to catch my eye or ear. It also acts as a kind of 'open experiment' in terms of developing my views and writing skills - and networking with other people of a like-mind.

If you've stumbled upon here randomly, then I suggest you check out my biography and other pages.

Please Note: This site, and the social networking profile pages connected with it, reflect my personal interests & views which do not necessarily represent those of organisations I am affiliated / associated with.

03/01/2013

Negation Mysticism vs Affirmation Mysticism

Following on from my previous post, which touched a little upon what I see as the differences in approach between Zen Buddhist practice and contemplative Christian practice, I thought it would be useful to share the following passage by Rufus Jones, from his book 'Essential Writings'. It is not a direct comparison of Buddhist thought with Christian thought, as it comes from a Christian perspective and uses overtly Christian language, but it does make useful reading.
Two Paths

There are two very diverse types of mystical attitude which come out of the testimony of consciousness to the soul's relation to God. I shall call the two classes, respectively, "negation mysticism" and "affirmation mysticism," although these words are used merely for purposes of description.

Negation Mysticism. The sense of the divine presence will naturally work very different results upon different persons. If one discovers he is a partaker of the divine life, what shall he do next? Why, answers the mystic of our first class, he shall make it his goal to become absorbed in God - swallowed in the Godhead.

Where can God be found? Not in our world of sense anywhere, answers this mystic. Every possible object in our world is a mere finite appearance. It may be as huge as the sun or even the Milky Way, or as minute as the dust speck in the sunbeam; it makes no difference. It is a form of finitude. It is, in contrast to the Absolute, an illusion, a thing of unreality. It cannot show God or take you to Him.

No better is the situation when you can fix upon some event of history or deed of a person in his social relations. The event is a mere finite fact. Cut off and treated by itself, it is not a true reality. God cannot be found in it. The same thing applies to inner states. They are no better than finite activities. Every state of consciousness is sadly finite. It always seeks a beyond. Consciousness is the symbol of restlessness. It is like the flight of a bird which has not found its nest. When the soul is perfectly at home in God, all thought will be quenched, all consciousness will cease.

"Believe not," cries one of these mystics, "those prattlers who boast that they know God. Who knows Him - is silent." He proceeds therefore by process of negation. Everything finite must be transcended. He must slough off not only the rags of his own righteousness, but the last vestige of his finitude. Union with God, absorption in His Being, so that "self" and "other" are unknown is the goal of his search:

Some little talk awhile of Me and Thee
There was - and then no more of Thee and Me. 

He is seeking for an immediate experience which shall fulfil every finite purpose and leave nothing to be sought or desired - a now that shall hint of no beyond. One sees that this mystic is asking for something which cannot be granted, or at least something which could not be known if it were attained. The Absolute who is postulated as precisely the negation of all finiteness turns out to be for us mortals only an absolute zero - a limitless sum-total of negation...

One sees at once the logical and practical outcome of the mysticism of negation. It ends in contraction and confusion or at least would end if the person were faithful to his principle. "It is," as one of our rare American teachers had said, "as if the bud, knowing that its life is in the life of the parent tree should seek to become one with the tree by withering and shrinking and letting its life ebb back into the common life. Seeing it we should not say, Behold how this bud has become one with the tree; we should say, The Bud is dead."

Then, too, it has been the tendency of this type of mysticism to encourage men to live for the rare moment of ecstasy and beatific vision, to sacrifice the chance of wining spiritual victory for the hope of receiving an ineffable illumination which would quench all further search or desire.

Affirmation Mysticism. We turn now to the affirmation mystics. They do not make vision the end of life, but rather the beginning. They are bent on having an immediate, firsthand sense of God - but not just for the joy of having it. More important than vision is obedience to the vision. There are battles to fight and victories to win. God's Kingdom is to be advanced. Error is to be attacked and truth to be established. There who would have a closer view of the Divine must seek it in a life of love and sacrifice.

Instead of seeking the Absolute by negating the finite, the mystic of this class finds the revelation of God in the finite. Nothing now can be unimportant. There is more in the least event than the ordinary eye sees. Every situation may be turned into an occasion for winning a nearer view of God. The most stubborn fact which fronts one in the path may be made a revelation of divine glory, for to this mystic every finite fact may become an open window into the Divine.

It is a primary fact for him that he partakes of God, that his being comes out of the life of God and that he is never beyond the reach of God. Who is his source. But this true being is to be wrought out in the world where he can know only finite and imperfect things. His mission on earth is to be a fellow worker with God - contributing in a normal daily life his humans powers to the divine Spirit who works in him and about him, bringing to a reality a kingdom of God.

His life with its plainly visible tasks is always like the palimpsest which bears in underlying writing a sacred text. He is always more than any finite task declares, and yet he accepts this task because he has discovered that only through the finite is the Infinite to be found. His mystical insight gives him a unity which does not lie beyond the transitory and temporal, but which includes them and gives them their reality. The slenderest human task becomes glorious because God is in it. The simplest act of duty is good because it makes the Infinite God more real. The slightest deed of pure love is a holy thing because God shines through it and is revealed by it.

It is because beauty is a unity that any beautiful object whatever may suffice to show it and any object that does show it has an opening into the infinite. It is because God is a complete unity that any being who partakes of Him may in measure manifest Him. The whole purpose of the one who holds this view is to make is life the best possible organ of God.

He too, like our other mystics, seeks union with God, but not through loss of personality. The eye serves the body not by extinguishing itself but by increasing its power of discrimination; so too the soul is ever more one with the Lord of life as it identifies itself with Him and lets His being expand its human powers...

The prayer of the affirmation mystic will be:

Leave me not, God, until - nay, until when?
Not till I am with thee, one heart, one mind:
Not till thy life is light in me, and then
Leaving is left behind.
- SL 131-33, 134-37, 138
Having first encountered this a few years ago, I have read this over and over today, in part to check for typos, and my response time and time again is 'wow!'.

No comments: